Encyclopedia of Gardening - 760 pages (2007)
A wonderfully comprehensive reference guide for
the beginner and expert. If you only buy one gardening book it
has to be this one.
Grasses have been among the trendiest plants
to have in the garden in recent years. Fashion aside, there are
plenty of reasons to have them in your garden
Grasses have a subtle beauty, their flowers
are wind-pollinated and therefore not bright and showy, but
feathery and delicate and usually very much in keeping with
the rest of the plant rather than being a brightly coloured
button of a flower stuck on leaves of a totally different shape.
Grasses animate the garden with movement
and often with sound. The slightest breeze will set their
slender leaves and drooping flower heads into motion and cause
gentle rustling sounds.
The shapes and colours of their leaves give
a excellent contrast to other features in the garden, to
broad-leaved plants and their showy flowers or to the materials
and textures of wood, stone, gravel, ceramics etc. that we may
have in the garden.
The plants featured
are recommended as they are reliable in most soils in most regions
and are widely available.
A large and varied
group of graceful grasses which contrary to popular belief are usually
hardy and not invasive. In the main they are fairly slow growing.
The length of the stems is connected to the extent of the root system.
So if your young plant doesn't produce 8ft high canes immediately,
give it a chance to establish.
Bamboos are evergreens
and not affected by any major pest or disease in this country (there's
little chance that panda's will start eating the emerging shoots).
They are not always able to cope with exposed windy conditions which
often makes them look a bit tatty and threadbare. they all prefer
dampish conditions and won't really withstand being baked by
the sun with little moisture available.
nitida (also known
as Sinarundinaria nitida or Fargesia nitida) - fountain
bamboo, is a handsome one with dark purple-green canes and dark
green leaves, to 15ft high by 5ft wide. Arundinaria murieliae
(Sinarundinaria or Fargesia murieliae) - umbrella
bamboo is similar but more, well, umbrella-shaped. Yellow-green
canes at first turning yellow with age. Phyllostachys nigra
- black bamboo is particularly striking with canes that
start green but then turn black in the second or third year 10-15ft
high by 6ft wide.
large specimens are not cheap but are fairly easily propagated by
division when grown in containers, keep moving them on to bigger
and bigger pots (i.e. the opposite to when they are grown in a container
as their final home) which encourages them to spread, before taking
them out and splitting into several plants.
Bamboos have undergone a taxonomic
review in recent years, meaning that their ancestry and relationships
with other plant types has been update in the light of new evidence
and discoveries. The knock on effect to this is that many bamboos
have been renamed and are still often to be found as the same species
under two totally different Latin names - such is the price of progress.
Carex buchananii -
a sedge, a grass-like plant rather than a true grass. Orange/brown
leaves curled at the end, to 30in. Not the most inspiring
plant when seen on its own, but it really looks fabulous
when placed against bright green foliage or as a contrast
to gravel / boulders / wood. Like most sedges tolerates
damp conditions. Sun or partial shade.
Buy Carex / red fox sedge
Carex elata "Aurea"
- Bowles Golden Sedge
richly coloured yellow sedge for moist or wet soil in sun
or partial shade. Beautifully coloured long soft leaves
with long flower spikes of the same colour rising above
in late spring / early summer.
Buy Carex / Bowles golden sedge
Cortaderia selloana - Pampas grass
had a bit of a bad press has poor old pampas grass with
its connotations of 19 70's housing estates. Like some
other plants though, it's earned its reputation unfairly,
largely as a result of being planted inappropriately.
It is a big plant 6ft tall by about the same wide with flower
panicles to 10ft, so plant it slap bang in the middle of
a small lawn and it will look completely overwhelming. Maybe
people thought "oh its only a grass, it can't be
at the margins of a garden or at the back of a mixed border
unless you have great expanses of lawn. If you can, plant
it so that the sun sets behind it when viewed from your
house or usual garden viewing place and you could well come
to love it. It's very resilient and an easy plant to
grow, try it in a difficult area where its natural vigour
may well allow it to thrive while the difficult conditions
will keep it smaller than normal size (but with less flower
where you place pampas grass, particularly if you have children,
and also when trimming it. The leaves look soft and
harmless, but they have very sharp and nasty backwards pointing
saw teeth along their edges. Always wear gloves when
cutting it back.
Buy Cortaderia / Pampas grass
- Blue fescue
blue-green leaves, forms clump about 8in high, long flower
spikes in late spring and early summer, plant in bright
sun for best colour, look especially good planted in groups
of least 3. Several named varieties available, "Elijah
blue", and "Blaufuchs" syn. "Blue fox"
amongst the best. Also good in pots and containers where
it can be a permanent resident amongst spring or summer
flowering bulbs or bedding.
Grass Festuca ovina - blue fescue
blue fescue 3 pack
Imperata cylindrica "Rubra"
- Japanese blood grass
Well behaved, slowly spreading
grass with very striking foliage even if it isn't every-ones
cup of tea. Mid green leaves to about 20in long that turn
red from the tips downwards almost as far as the bases.
Short flower panicles are produced in the late summer.
Grass - Imperata cylindrica Rubra - Japanese Blood Grass
noble grasses and impressive with it. Available as many
different named hybrids, many good ones, particularly "Siberfeder"
syn. silver feather and "Cosmopolitan", "zebrinus"
is a horizontally striped version with yellow bands on mid
green leaves. Grow alone or as a part of a border.
Flower panicles good for floral art (or hitting friends
/ siblings - depending on age). 4ft to 9ft when in flower.
Grass Miscanthus sinensis zebrinus
Miscanthus zebrinus 3 pack
Pheasant's tail grass
medium sized grass and one of the best. Evergreen leaves
12in long streaked orange-brown in summer, turns orange-brown
all over in winter, drooping flower panicles to 30in, spread
up to 4ft. Tolerant of shade, but plant in sun for best
shows a mass planting of Stipa arundinacea
around a feature statue at
Anglesey Abbey Cambridgeshire.
Buy Stipa arundinacea / Pheasant's
Stipa tenuissima - "Pony
tufted grass, bright green to 12in with flower spikes of
twice this that look like newly washed hair apparently (maybe
if you have green flowing locks it does). A lovely vivid
green grass with soft feathery flower plumes arching above
the leaves that billows in the slightest breeze.
Buy Stipa tenuissima
tips and care
Most grasses prefer a sunny position,
coloured varieties produce their best colours in full sun, if too
shady, they tend to go more to a mid-green colour.
Once established, grasses tend
to be trouble free. prepare the soil with organic matter before
planting and look after them through the first summer. Thereafter
they will need little care other than weeding.
Cut down deciduous grasses in
February (these are the ones that turn brown over the winter),
this will encourage them to put on a spurt of growth come spring.
New growth doesn't look so good when growing through old dead
Evergreen grasses shouldn't
be cut back drastically as they can take a while to recover.
In spring though old tatty leaves with damaged split ends can be
trimmed back or removed to tidy the plant up. Also, remove old flowering
spikes as they bend or fall over to make way for new.
Grasses are generally straightforward to propagate,
many can be propagated from seed and almost all can be propagated
by division. If you want to make a display of a large number of
grasses, such as in the pictures of Stipa arundinacea or
Festuca ovina glauca on this page, then propagating will
be essential unless you're very rich!
Buy grass seed from Thompson and Morgan
One of the oldest
and best known of seed companies with an impressively wide range,
visit their site and on-line catalogue.
Festuca ovina glauca will yield a mix of plants of various
shades of blue, to select the best coloured ones, prick seedlings
out into seed trays, about 15 in each and then be fairly ruthless
about discarding the greener individuals to get the best coloured
Of almost all
types is successful. Dig them up when actively growing in spring
or early summer and simply pull apart. They will separate at the
naturally weakest region to give two plants with decent root systems.
These can then be planted straight away.
If you wish
to build up stocks from container grown plants, then split the plant
when the roots fill the pot, with one plant sepe4ating into 3 or
4 offspring, and re-pot, place them in a sunny position and make
sure you water them well! This can be repeated as many times as
necessary not forgetting a liquid feed, eventually place them in
2L pots and then plant them in the ground when they fill these.
This will give you the quickest way to a good sized display of good